Vikapu Bomba was founded by Catherine Shembilu (image below on the right) with a group of six weavers. Weaving has a long tradition in the Iringa and Njombe Region in the Tanzanian Southern Highlands but poverty among local artisans is high. It was this situation and Catherine’s strong belief in the potential of women working together that she decided to found Vikapu Bomba.
Through providing guaranteed access to premium markets, our current 90 artisans are able to achieve very fair prices for their handmade products. This in turn enables them to sustainably improve their and their families' livelihoods.
We establish relationships with experienced weavers who become ‘lead artisans’ in their communities. Lead artisans are supported to recruit and train more artisans and to establish and register their own producer groups. Lead artisans also receive further training to operate their groups as small enterprises – including communicating and monitoring production targets, quality control, bookkeeping and product shipping.
About handwoven iringa baskets tote bags
INDIVIDUAL PRODUCT TRACEABILITY
We know our artisan Mamas very well. Each of our handwoven Iringa baskets or bags comes with a label featuring the portrait and short story of the individual artisan who produced it. When buying from us, you thus not only receive a beautiful product, but you are also able to get to know and support the Mama who made it! The image above shows a nice example of Atweluche proudly holding the tote bag she wove with her label attached.
Our artisans have a direct influence on the price setting for their handwoven products. We support them to determine a price that enables them to cover their household expenses and contribute to savings. We also help producers understand the business calculations involved in setting a fair producer price which doesn’t undermine the competitiveness of the product. On average, our artisan prices have been 250% higher than local market prices.
All our products are handwoven using a special reed grass called 'Milulu' which grows along rivers and streams in the Iringa region in the Tanzanian southern highlands (image below). After harvesting, the Milulu has to be dried in the sun for about one day before it is bundled for weaving. Traditionally, the weave is very tight which is why it takes a Mama about one week to finish weaving our smaller Iringa baskets and about three weeks for our largest baskets.
Starting with an initial group of six women artisans, we now work with over 90 artisans. Our handwoven Iringa baskets and bags are currently sold in over 30 high-end shops in Tanzania, Japan, the UK and the US.
Among the most important impacts of Vikapu Bomba is that weaving incomes are constant and reliable. This is in stark contrast to artisans’ previous subsistence farming livelihoods which were seasonal and dependent on climatic conditions.
More specifically, Vikapu Bomba incomes enable artisans to send their children to better schools and cover medical bills. Many artisans regularly deposit parts of their weaving income in local savings groups. This allows them to have money available when they need it to pay for school fees, medical costs or emergencies. Several artisans were able to purchase solar panels for charging household appliances and phones and to have light at night. A number of artisans even reinvested their weaving income into small-scale agricultural businesses as a secondary source of income.